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Flip the way you lead volunteers

August 03, 2015


Let’s talk volunteers. Think about Sunday service teams like ushers, greeters, parking lot people, coffee shop servers, Children’s ministry workers, and more.

Would you describe your volunteer teams as passionate armies of fully equipped and deeply committed soldiers? Are people lining up to sign up to come aboard the battleship? Or does your volunteer system seem more like a sinking ship people can’t get off of quickly enough? 

I’d like to explore six crucial flips in thinking that will help your volunteer ship set sail for smoother waters and gather a lot more passengers along the way. These subtle but significant flips will result in an army of servants to develop and deploy for effective ministry. And guess what else? They will love and appreciate the fact that you are helping them use their gifts in the area they’ve been called to serve. 

1. Thought: Leading volunteers means managing schedules. 

Flip: Leading volunteers means shepherding people. 
If all you’re doing is filling people’s names into a schedule and sending them a reminder of when they’re supposed to serve, you’re managing, not leading. 

New Behavior: A volunteer leader checks on people regularly – encouraging them, appreciating them, equipping them, praying for them, and caring about their spiritual development. 

2. Thought: Volunteering is about doing. 

Flip: Volunteering is about becoming. 
If volunteers think all they are expected to do is a set of tasks, it’s easy for them to choose to not show up because they don’t see the eternal value in what they’re doing. 

New Behavior: Develop a culture where volunteers see themselves as part of the vision and ministry of the church. Help them realize they can grow spiritually and learn to become the people God created them to be as they serve and invest in others. Encourage your volunteers’ spiritual growth with devotionals, make sure they attend worship on a regular basis, pray for each other, and check on them regularly. 

3. Thought: Volunteering is something we want from people. 

Flip: Volunteering is something we want for people. 
When we are constantly communicating our wants and needs to people, we show that we care more about our needs than how they were created to serve. 

New Behavior: Communicate the opportunity for the person not your need. 
“I see the way you are with babies! You have a gift! Serving in the nursery might be a great way for you to use that gift to serve the babies and parents in this church. It’s an incredible opportunity and I think you’d love it!” 

4. Thought: If I advertise for a position, people should respond. 

Flip: If I ask in person and build a relationship, I’ll know where to help them get plugged in. 
Newsletters, bulletins, videos, and posters are not effective ways to invite people to serve. These generic ads fail to recognize an individual’s gifting. 

New Behavior: Constantly develop relationships with people in your church. Spend time initiating conversation so you get to know them personally and where they are called to serve. If you ask someone to serve in an area without taking the time to get to know them, you’re not going to be able to figure out where they are uniquely gifted to serve. Developing relationships takes longer, but volunteers who are serving in their sweet spot are much more productive, effective, and stick around longer than those who aren’t and in the end, that saves you time and effort.

5. Thought: A warm body is better than no body. 

Flip: No body is better than just a warm body. 
We need to stop filling the schedule with warm bodies who are not called to serve. Filling volunteer roles with people who are not happy, called, or effective in their ministry role does more harm than good. 
Consider the couple who has been recruited to serve on the Greeters team. They aren’t comfortable talking to others, but they didn’t want to say no, so they said yes. They stand at the door handing out bulletins and because they feel awkward talking to strangers, they don’t. Because they aren’t serving where they are called, they’re in a bad mood – they don’t enjoy what they’re doing or see the purpose behind it. As guests walk into the church, they pick up on the attitude of your uncomfortable greeters and their first impression is not a positive one. In addition the attitude of these unhappy volunteers rubs off on the others serving on the team. 

New Behavior: Wait till you have the right person for role. If you don’t have the volunteers to do the ministries you are trying to do, stop the ministries until you have the right people in the right place. Having no greeters at the door is better than having the wrong greeters at the door. If you can’t find just the right person, leave that space blank on the schedule and continue looking and praying for the person God has in mind to fill that role. 

6. Thought: It’s just easier to do it myself. 

Flip: It’s worth the extra time to train a volunteer. 
Too often leaders take too much ownership of their ministries – so much that they squeeze out any possibility for volunteers to plug in. When you do that, you’re taking away an opportunity for someone else to use their gifts in His service. It may seem “easier” to you to just do it yourself, but in reality it’s selfish and controlling. It’s always worth the time to develop a volunteer to do a job. 

New Behavior: Think about the things you can turn over to someone else and allow them to use their gifts to accomplish the task. Reverse the trend of companies who “down-size” and instead make every opportunity to “up-size” and provide additional opportunities for people to serve in your ministry. 

By getting rid of old, ineffective thought patterns, you’ll be able to provide opportunities for volunteers to become the people God is calling them to be. 

Looking for more leadership materials for your church? Click on the Resources tab at and click on Program Resources, or email or

Jay Hanson, Lead Pastor, and Anne Bosarge, Director of Discipleship, serve at The Chapel in Brunswick. They love sharing about the ways God is moving in their church. Contact them at and for more information. 

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